A local family remains stunned more than a year after their 25-year-old daughter and mother passed away within a day after giving birth, because of a little-known pregnancy complication.
Now, Christie Polverelli’s father, Mark, wants to raise awareness and educate doctors and pregnant women about HELLP syndrome, so more deaths might be prevented.
Christie’s family and the family of her partner, Chris Lehoisky, have been named the mission families for the Capital District for the 2014 Promise Walk for Pre-eclampsia, which will be held June 1.
“So many people we talk to do not know about HELLP syndrome. They’ve never heard of it,” Mark said.
The syndrome is a form of pre-eclampsia, which usually occurs in the late stages of pregnancy or after childbirth. It is named for its characteristics: hemolysis — the breaking down of red blood cells; elevated liver enzymes; and low platelet count. It can be difficult to diagnose because it mimics other illnesses like gastritis, flu, acute hepatitis or gall bladder disease.
Christie’s mother picked her up from her job at Walmart in Queensbury on the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2013, taking her home to Granville. Christie was twenty-seven weeks pregnant and already a mother of three.
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Christie’s face and extremities were bloated. She had experienced some pre-eclampsia symptoms with her other pregnancies, and had been seeing her doctor for scheduled checkups. Weeks before, she had felt like she had the flu and lost her voice, but recovered. She even attended a wedding in January.
“She seemed fine,” Mark said.
Christie had posted on Facebook following an earlier visit to the doctor that she felt down, because she had developed gestational diabetes. She wrote that she had been put on a strict diet, though, and thought she would have a healthier pregnancy because of it.
But about half an hour after arriving home from work, Christie felt severe pain on her right side and was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Doctors performed a C-section to take the baby, a 1-pound 12-ounce little girl. They discovered Christie’s liver had ruptured and diagnosed HELLP syndrome. She was bleeding internally, and her blood would not clot. They finally were able to slow the bleeding with transfusions, but Christie was critically ill.
She was flown to a hospital in Albany, where she underwent exploratory surgery. Her condition declined as she developed further complications, including a collapsed lung and stomach bleeding. She went into cardiac arrest and died at 2:14 p.m. Feb. 27, 22 hours after the onset of symptoms.
Mark said her death crushed the family, but he is grateful for the survival of his baby granddaughter, Elle, who is now 15 months old. He hopes raising money for education and research will help other families who encounter the syndrome. He stressed that expectant mothers must get proper prenatal care and ask questions of their doctors if they show any signs of pre-eclampsia.
Mark started fundraising efforts right after Christie died. Currently, 96 walkers are on the Polverelli/Lehoisky Promise Walk team. Almost $20,000 has been directed toward the Preeclampsia Foundation, he said.
“Through faith and love and support from so many people ... we became closer, and Christie has lived on. The awareness and education of others in the medical field, pregnant mothers that we’ve talked to, it’s made some changes in their lives as well and we can only hope through all this love and strength these people have given us, that mothers and babies can be saved,” Mark said.